The alternative birth movement in the United States: history and current status

Women Health. 1991;17(1):39-56. doi: 10.1300/J013v17n01_03.


The alternative birth movement is a consumer reaction to paternalistic and mechanistic medical obstetrical practices which developed in the United States early in this century. Alternative birth settings developed as single labor-delivery-recovery rooms in the hospital or as free-standing birth centers. Both alternatives offer family-centered, home-like, low technological maternity care. In order to overcome physician resistance to non-traditional maternity care, alternative birth center policies eliminate all women who are expected to have a complicated pregnancy or delivery. Physician resistance to alternative birthing is publicly based on the issue of maternal and infant safety. Additional issues, however, are that physicians fear economic competition and resist loss of control over obstetric practice. This paper (1) traces the historical antecedents and social factors leading to the alternative birth movement, (2) describes the types of alternative birthing methods, and (3) describes ways in which the obstetrical community has maintained and rationalized dominance over the birthing process.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Authoritarianism
  • Consumer Behavior
  • Family
  • Female
  • Gender Identity
  • History, 20th Century
  • Home Childbirth / history*
  • Humans
  • Natural Childbirth / history*
  • Nurse Midwives / history*
  • Obstetrics / history
  • Obstetrics / methods
  • Pregnancy
  • Social Change
  • United States